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Weapons of World War Two

B-29 Superfortress

B-29 Superfortress

The B-29, of which we see depicted in the illustration the model 45 MO baptized as "Enola Gay", the very one that dropped over Hiroshima the first atomic bomb in History, can be fairly considered as the maximum expression of the American war industry and, for its time, almost a science-fiction machine. The aircraft was projected and built almost entirely by using vanguard techniques and by using in a minimal part the traditional formulas.

Four-engined aircraft of very elegant line, the Boeing B-29 (which flew for the first time the 21st September 1942) was one of entirely metallic construction, excepting the movable surfaces, with half wing, fully retractable landing gear of fore tricycle type and an auxiliary tail ski to avoid contacts with the ground when taking off or landing. The fuselage, of cylindrical shape, housed the crew in two compartments (one in the nose and other in the center, linked by a tube of about 90 centimeters in diameter along which one could transit by lying in a carriage and taking impulse by means of a rail attached to the upper part). During flight the two compartments were pressurized, and they had installations for heating and oxygen breathing. Only the tail gunner remained isolated from the rest of the crew, in his individual position, during high-altitude flights.

The propulsion system comprised four Wright R 3350 13, which would be soon replaced by more adequate propulsors, given that they provided only 2230 horsepower each, which was not much for an aircraft of the mass of the B-29. The electronic dotation comprised radar devices for fire control, and later for bombing. The offensive load was housed in two bays, fitted with devices that prevented the bombs from falling in group, regularly spacing their fall.

The defensive system comprised from ten to twelve 12.7-millimeter machine guns, plus one 20-millimeter cannon, and everything was organized, excepting the tail position, in turrets remotely controlled by the gunners, who saw the enemy through windows placed at a certain distance from the weapons. It was achieved so a better shooting precision when the gunners were not subject to the handling of the weapons during fire. It is interesting to mention that an identical solution had been previously realized only by Italian projectists in the Piaggio 108, the excellent four-engined bomber produced in Italy in the end of 1939.

But in some cases the aircraft were armed only with the tail gun or totally unarmed, as the "Enola Gay". The B-29 was as well the biggest help that United States provided to the Soviet Union, albeit unwittingly. Between July and November 1944, three B-29 had to land per force in Siberia, for they could not reach their bases in China. Trusting the bonds of alliance, the crews expected to repair the malfunctions and depart again, but they found themselves in front of the unfriendly machine guns of the Russian fighters, which forced them to take land and to follow the also unfriendly submachine guns of the Red Army soldiers, who proceeded to intern them.

The aircraft were requisitioned and put at the disposal of the technicians led by engineers Tupolev and Schvetsov, who after hard work, which would mean an exceptional effort for the Soviet war industry, would manage to present to Stalin the first "Russian" strategic superbomber in August 1947. It had been born the Tupolev 4 and it had died the American absolute air supremacy. This ended the "hot war" and started the "cold war".

B-29 Superfortress
First flight/Entry into service: 21 September 1942 (XB-29); May 1944 (B-29)

Wingspan: 43.05 meters

Wing area: 165.15 square meters (XB-29); 161.28 square meters (B-29 and B-29A)

Length: 29.92 meters (XB-29); 30.17 meters (B-29 and B-29A)

Height: 8.45 meters

Full load/Empty weight: 54430/29931 kilograms (XB-29); 56246/31814 kilograms (B-29); 63999/32368 kilograms (B-29A)

Payload/Crew: 24439 kilograms/10 (XB-29); 24432 kilograms/10-11 (B-29); 31631 kilograms/10-11 (B-29A)

Engines: Four Wright R 3350 13 of 2230 horsepower each (XB-29); four Wright R 3350 23 of 2464 horsepower each (B-29 and B-29A)

Time to reach 6096 meters of altitude: 38 minutes (B-29 and B-29A)

Cruising speed: 397 kilometers/hour (XB-29); 370 kilometers/hour (B-29 and B-29A)

Maximum speed: 592 kilometers/hour (XB-29); 576 kilometers/hour (B-29 and B-29A)

Service ceiling: 9784 meters (XB-29); 9708 meters (B-29 and B-29A)

Defensive armament: Ten-twelve 12.7-millimeter machine guns and one 20-millimeter cannon

Drop armament: 7257 kilograms of bombs (XB-29); 9702 kilograms of bombs (B-29 and B-29A)

Operational range: 9415 kilometers (XB-29); 9012 kilometers (B-29); 9656 kilometers (B-29A)

Also in Weapons of World War Two:

MAS 522 torpedo boatChar_B1-bis heavy tankISU-152 tank destroyer